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Instrumental Music


Instrumental Music music played on instruments, is possibly more wide-spread than vocal and dance music. It constitutes a very important component of vocal music, theatre, dance, cinema, jatra, etc.

Instrumental music is rendered in three ways: solo, duet and orchestra. In the solo rendering of classical music, instruments like tanpura, tabla and harmonium are used as accompaniment. Even in a solo rendering of instrumental music, accompaniment may be necessary. For instance, tabla and tanpura often accompany a solo performance of sitar or sarod. Several instruments are played together in an orchestra. In a solo performance, a particular instrument dominates, but in an orchestral performance different instruments play in harmony.

Instruments such as the vina, sitar, sanai, esraj, sarod, flute, violin, surbahar and sarebgi can be used for solo performances. The tanpura, tabla and pakhwaj act as accompanying instruments. When the tabla or pakhwaj is used for a solo rendering, accompaniment is provided by sarengi, esraj, harmonium and violin. Although percussion instruments are secondary in a solo, they are essential in the bandish part of the performance when the instrumentalists all play together. In the alap part of performance, where musicians show their own skills, they may not have any accompaniment.

Instruments suitable for solo performances are also suitable for duets. In a duet two instruments of the same kind or of different kinds can have key roles. For instance, two sitarists, or one sitarist and one sarod player or one violinist and one flautist can play together in a duet. In such performances percussion instruments serve as accompaniments, and not as associate instruments.

In classical music, twelve sounds are used in their most varied forms. These include 22 shrutis or known divisions of the octave. The instruments suitable for solo performances can very deftly express these srutis. Bharat indentified the 22 shrutis on vina. He fitted 22 strings to the vina and, according to the vibration of each string, fixed the positions of the srutis and named them. These srutis are related to the seven pure sounds: sa - tivra, kumudvati, manda and chhandovati; re - dayavati, ravjani and raktika; ga - raudri and krodhi; ma - vajrika, prasarini, priti and marjani; pa - ksiti, rakta, sandipani and alapini; dha - madanti, rohini and ramya; ni - ugra and ksobhini. As it is difficult for many instruments to harmonise a sruti, classical music is not performed in orchestra.

When several instruments play together, the quality that can be achieved by an instrument in a solo performance cannot be achieved. As classical music is dependent on the seven sruti divisions, orchestral compositions for classical music instruments have generally not been encouraged. The instruments suitable for solos or duets may play a key role in an orchestra while most other instruments play a supportive role. A group of instruments used in a vocal song do not constitute an orchestra as here they play only a supportive role. It is when instruments play together on their own that they constitute an orchestra. For instance, a double-stringed instrument or dotara, a flute, a violin, a tabla, a sarinda, a drum, a pair of cymbals, a gong and a pair of kartals, when played together, will make up an orchestra but there has to be an orchestral composition for them. Several of the same instrument, such as dotara or sitar or sarod, may also play together in such a concert.

Instruments that maintain the beat always play a special role in a solo, duet or orchestral performance. Even a single tabla, pakhwaj, drum, or cymbal can steer the course of the tunes and rhythms of hundreds of instruments played in an orchestra. No composition can be complete without instruments that maintain the beat. It is possible to create an orchestra with only a set of percussion instruments such as tabla, pakhwaj, drum, cymbals, tabor, etc. If the instruments harmonise, the music they create can be very pleasing to the ear.

Bangladesh has a proud tradition of instrumental music. Many internationally reputed artistes were born here. Before 1947, well-known musicians from different provinces of India used to come to dhaka, natore, mymensingh, sylhet, chittagong, brahmanbaria, etc. They often settled down here and devoted themselves to their art under the patronage of local rajas and zamindars. In 1886, Chandranath Roy established a music academy at jagannath college to teach harmonium, vocal music, tabla and sitar. uday shankar (1900-1977), who earned international fame by presenting dances and symphonies overseas, originally came from jessore. The famous flautist and musician, surendralal das (1891-1943), popularised the orchestra. ustad alauddin khan, Dakshinaranjan Sen, Timirbaran Bhattacharya, and pannalal ghosh also made significant contributions to orchestral music. The flautist dhir ali mia (1920-1984) and the sitar player mir kashem khan (1928-1984) also made significant contributions to instrumental music.

Both solo performances and symphonies are regularly presented on Bangladesh television and radio channels.

Esraj is a combination of sarinda, sitar and sarengi. It is also called ashuravjani, and is played mainly as an accompaniment of classical or light music, though it may be played solo as well. In pre-partition Bangladesh, brajendra kishore raychowdhuri (1874-1957), zamindar of Gouripur estate in Mymensingh earned considerable fame as an esraj player. He learnt to play the instrument from artistes whom he had invited to live in his establishment. Other famous esraj players of the time included Shyam Basak and Priyalal Choudhury of Dhaka. More recent esraj players include Abdul Bari, dilip kumar roy and Nur Husain.

Flute locally known as banshi, it has many variety, such as saralabanshi, adbanshi or murali, tiprabanshi, venu and layabanshi. The most popular in Bangladesh is adbansi or murali. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurashia is a world-famous flute player. The reproduction of the seven notes of an octave depends on the length and circumference of the flute. Usually a small flute produces high-pitched notes and a large flute low-pitched ones. The flute is often used as accompaniment for folk songs. At the same time it is incomparable for solo or duet renderings of classical music. An artiste's feelings can be transmitted to the hearts of the listeners effectively by the flute. Reputed flautists in Bangladesh include Shukkur Ali, Bari Siddiqui, Capt Azizul Islam and Abdul Hakim Gazi. Many other flautists work as staff artistes at the regional stations of Radio Bangladesh.

Guitar though a western instrument, it is very popular in Bangladesh. There are two main varieties of guitars: Spanish and Hawaiian. Pandit Brijbhushan Kabra earned great fame by remodeling the Hawaiian guitar for Indian classical music. It is extensively used in Bangladesh as accompaniment for light music and as part of orchestra ensembles. Artiste Dolon Kanungo of Chittagong earned considerable fame playing classical music on the Hawaiian guitar in the style of Pandit Brijbhushan Kabra.

Jaltaranga is a musical instrument consisting of 10-18 water-filled china bowls. Sounds are produced on striking the bowls with two light sticks to produce ripples of seven pure octave sounds. It is essentially a solo instrument.

Mandolin is primarily used for playing light music and as accompaniment for vocal music. It adds variety in an orchestra.

Pakhwaj is used for solo, duet and orchestral performances. It is an essential accompaniment for vocal music, especially classical music, and dance. The pakhwaj is used to play delicate supporting tunes for tabla and dance as well as for hymns to gods and goddesses. There was a time when both Kolkata and Dhaka had pakhwaj gharanas. Currently, this instrument is used mostly as accompaniment for classical dhrupad singing and dancing.

Sanai produces melancholy tunes that seem to reflect the sadness of Bengali life, specially the sadness surrounding a bride's departure from her parental home. Ustad Bismillah Khan was an internationally famous sanai player. Often played solo, the sanai can also be played along with other instruments. Its dialogue with a tabla in a solo or duet or its exposition of a composition in medium or fast tempo can be very attractive. Orchestral music with sanai, clarinet, drum and other instruments are common at weddings as well as between scenes in a jatra performance.

Sarengi is the modern form of the vina. It produces very melodious tunes and is unparalleled as an accompaniment. No other instrument is capable of imitating the sensitive human voice so skillfully. It can reflect most uncannily the joys and pains of love as contained in the tender, plaintive and passionate sentiments of thungri, dadra, kajri, chaiti and holi. The sarengi is also suitable for solo performances. Ustad Bandu Khan, Ali Bux (Delhi), Sabit Ali (Gwalior), Husain Bux (Lucknow), Ghulam Sabir (Delhi), Gopal Mishra, Ram Narayan, Baijonath Mishra (Benaras), Gouri Shankar Mishra and Mehedi Husain Khan were famous for their skill in playing the sarengi. Before partition some sarengi players from other parts of India settled in Dhaka. Ustad Sagiruddin Khan continued to live in this country till his death. Dilip Kumar Roy currently plays the sarengi on Bangladesh Radio and TV.

Sarod is a refined form of rabab (a violin-like instrument), and may be played in the style of the rabab of the Tansen gharana or the sursingar of the Rampur gharana. Ustad Haider Ali Khan brought the instrument from Kabul and made it popular in India. Ustad Alauddin Khan was its first world-renowned exponent. His son Ali Akbar Khan also became internationally famous playing the sarod. At the instance of Alauddin Khan, his younger brother, Ustad ayet ali khan, modified the sarod into its present form. Ayet Ali Khan's son, Ustad bahadur hossain khan, was one of the best sarod players of the subcontinent. At present Shahadat Husain Khan, Yusuf Khan, and Afzalur Rahman play the sarod.

Basically, the sarod is used for rendering classical music but in modern times it has become popular in presenting, in the style of vocal music, such classical tunes as thumri, dadra, kajri, chaiti, holi etc. To render alap, jod (transitional movement) and gat (fixed part) of a raga when it is played solo calls for a great deal of skill on the part of an artiste. Audiences appreciate the versatility of a sarod which can play a light tune as well as a classical raga. A very pleasurable aspect of the sarod is its duet with the tabla in the form of a dialogue. A duet between two sarods, or between one sarod and one sitar or between one sarod and one violin is also very enjoyable. The sarod plays a special role in an orchestra.

Sitar may be played solo or in a duet. Perhaps the world's best-known sitar player today is Pandit Ravi Shankar. The slow alap of the sitar, which is essentially a transitional movement in ragas, sounds delightful and appealing. Its jods and jhalas (twists) can be thrilling. Since pre-partition days, sitar playing has been popular in Bangladesh. Haricharan Das is the founder of the Dhaka sitar gharana. He came into prominence as a musician in the early part of the 19th century and was the first to introduce solo sitar performances in Bengal. His great-grandson, Bhagwan Das, was his family's best sitarist. There were other well-known sitar players as well. At Brahmanbaria, several of Ustad Alauddin Khan's relatives earned fame as sitar players, among them, Ustad Ayet Ali Khan, Ustad abed hossain khan and Ustad Belayet Husain Khan. In the second decade of the 20th century, artistes like Ustad Waliullah Khan and Bankim Kumar Pal earned fame as sitar players in Dhaka.

Surbahar variation of the vina. Ustad Alauddin Khan enthralled audiences in many countries of the world playing this instrument. Ustad Ayet Ali Khan was a skillful surbahar player and presently his son, Mobarak Husain Khan. Compared to the sitar, thicker strings are used in the surbahar, resulting in heavier, deeper sounds.

Tabla a pair of tabors that traditionally kept the beat or time in music and formed an essential support for instrumental or vocal music, the tabla has recently become a popular solo instrument. Ustad Allah Rakkha Khan and his son Ustad Zakir Husain of India are world-renowned tabla players. A tabla solo is known as lahada. In lahada, the tabla is supported by a sarengi, harmonium, esraj or flute. The artistes display their skills through a variety of presentation techniques and manipulation of tempos. A tabla virtuoso can reflect the diversity of sounds around us, for instance, sounds of moving vehicles and fighting dogs and cats, or even, the sounds of the desert, as Ustad Zakir Husain has shown.

Vina in ancient India any stringed instrument used to be called vina. Thus, it existed in many versions, with many names. In modern times too the vina has a number of variants, the names reflecting their shapes and performance. When performed solo, the vina is close to the classical style. It is played in alap and jod without the accompaniment of a beat instrument. In the gat part or fixed form, the tabla, pakhwaj or South Indian Mridanga is played as accompaniment. The vina is also as an accompaniment. Anadi Kumar Dastidar (1903-1974) of Sylhet played the vina as a member of Uday Shankar's dance troupe.

Violin is played in most countries of the world. In Bangladesh, it is popular for solo, duet and orchestral performances. The violin is also used as accompaniment for classical and light music. It plays a key role in baul and kirtan songs, as well as in jatra. As in vocal music, the violin's solo compositions in slow, medium or fast tempos are very popular. In a duet, its appeal is equal to the sitar, sarod, sarengi and sanai. In an orchestra, it plays an important role in rendering both light and classical tunes. In pre-partition Bangladesh, Aftabuddin Khan (1862-1933), Gangadhar Notto (Mymensingh) and Paritosh Sheel (Dhaka) were well-known violin players. [Krishnapada Mandal]